Does Gender Affect Web Design?
Gender, in the world of web design, is a very touchy subject. It’s been suggested that not only do men and women focus on different design elements; we’re also drawn to websites designed by someone of our own gender.
Before we get into this, let’s just accept that any discussion of gender is rife with generalities which may not apply to individuals. However, there’s sufficient evidence to suggest gender does affect web design.
Women tend to favor designs with rounded shapes, while male designers usually favor linear designs. Men tend to gravitate towards plain surfaces, while female designers are more likely to use detailed surfaces. Even approaches to human faces are different. Male designers are more likely to draw a face in profile, while women favor full-profile faces.
The Gender Chasm
There isn’t a gender gap in the world of web design—it’s more like a chasm. According to a 2009 A Study Apart survey, 82.6 percent of website designers are male. Interestingly, a full 66.5 percent of web designers don’t believe a gender gap exists in the industry (perhaps because we’ve usually got our heads bent over our monitors).
The gap exists, however, and as is all too common, the 17.4 percent of designers who are women get paid less than their male counterparts. While the average annual for a male designer is $45,379, women make $41,020, a difference of almost 10 percent.
Changing the Design Landscape
What can we learn from this, other than the somewhat sad possibility that you might pay a lower web design cost if you hire a female designer? Some argue the gender gap isn’t really important, because web design just naturally attracts more men than women.
Oh really? Take a peek into a college web design class and you’ll see a 50/50 split between genders, suggesting women are just as interested in the career as men. Somewhere along the way, however, the even proportions seen in the classroom mutate into the 4:1 ratio seen in the workplace.
At some point during this debate someone trots out the old chestnut that men have better computer skills than women. Again, if this were true, why the 50/50 classroom split? It’s not like the female students are dropping out or failing en masse.
The problem may self-resolve over time, as more female graduates look for work in the field, but that will take time. Part of the problem lies within the industry, with employers and contractors more willing to hire male designers than female.
While the gender gap creates roadblocks for female designers, it also creates opportunities. Online women are an important demographic, and it does seem true that people respond better to websites designed by their own gender. As businesses realize this, it makes sense to hire female designers to work on sites targeting women. With relatively few female designers in the industry, those who can capitalize on their ability to create female-oriented sites should have no problem finding work.
Aaron Walker works in the design and development fields as well as doing freelance writing on the side. If you want to see more of his work, check out his blog SocialVex.